Students in a power mechanics/small engine class at Nikiski High School look at one of the ten new engines they will be working on later this year during the first day of the class.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The power mechanics shop at Nikiski Middle-High School recently got a jump start, thanks to a federal grant program for career and technical education, and a vocational education program from Briggs and Stratton.
“It’s something we’ve been missing ever since it went away,” Greta Cox, a guidance counselor at the school, said of the popular power mechanics class.
Cox said that budget cuts over the past couple of years led to the elimination of one of the school’s shop teachers. The teacher the school lost happened to be the one who ran the welding and power mechanics shops.
“It’s been a bone of contention in the community since then,” She said. “It was a high-interest class, and the current administration has been trying to figure out how to get it back with limited funding.”
Also complicating the issue, Cox said, has been the fact that with the shop not being used, some of the equipment was moved to other schools.
“We didn’t really have a teacher who could teach it and if we did, the shop was not up to par,” said she said.
The school applied for and received $7,500 of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act grant money allotted to the district, but Cox said the hardest part of the process was finding something that fit within the constraints of a tight budget.
Instructor Mike Boyle explains the class to students Tuesday. "The bottom line is can you take one of these apart and make it run again," he said.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“I had happened upon the Briggs and Stratton program, so it was in my mind. I went back and thought it would fit,” she said.
Through the Briggs and Stratton program, the schools receives quite a bit of horsepower for the buck.
Included in the package from the company: 10 horizontal crankshaft, iron sleeve, 6.5 horsepower overhead valve engines; gasket sets and crankcase cover gaskets; repair manuals, text books, workbooks and an instructor’s manual; single-cylinder four-cycle and V-twin engine repair manuals; a variety of training and repair multimedia products; specialty tool kits; cylinder blocks, intake and exhaust valves, and replacement valve guides for valve train work; flywheel keys; valve seat cutter kits; and valve repair guides.
The package also includes a four-day training course at Briggs and Stratton’s Milwaukee, Wisc., facility for teacher Mike Boyle.
Boyle said the package from Briggs and Stratton is a great start and hopes the program will grow.
“That’s the hope. I think that’s the intent of the administration. This is a start to getting things back and going,” Boyle said. “... After seeing the program get so small, it’s nice to see someone take an interest and put a focus on voc-ed.”
Sean Dusek, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s administrator for secondary education, said the district revamped the process with which is distributes Perkins grants this year.
Perkins grants are given to each state through the U.S. Department of Education, and the state allocates funds to each school district. Dusek said in the past, money was divvied up evenly between schools. This year, a committee was formed to review each request for funds. Dusek said 14 applications were submitted and all were awarded some money, but the new process ensures that spending is done more effectively.
“We’re trying to make sure that the money being spent is more effective and more focused,” Dusek said.
He also commended the staff and administration at Nikiski for finding a way to make their power mechanics program work with limited funding.
Walt Ward, the district’s career and technology education coordinator, noted that budget cuts have impacted programs at every school around the district. Career and technical education includes subjects such as family and consumer sciences and business classes, in addition to trade and industry classes.
Students in Nikiski get their first taste of the new power mechanics shop as the spring semester starts this week. Cox said the class would be limited to 20 students, and it filled up quickly.
Upon completing the class, students will be able to take apart a basic small engine and put it back together. Those skills will be transferable to a variety of small engines, such as snowmachines, motorcycles and lawn mowers.
“They should have a fair background in theory of internal combustion engines, and they will have torn apart and put back together a 6.5-horsepower engine successfully that’s the key word so that it will run,” Boyle said.
Boyle said he is looking forward to his training course in Milwaukee. He said he’s signed up for the advance course in which he’ll be given a running engine and a handful of sand. Then he’ll have to repair all the damage the sand will do.
Boyle said he’s pleased to see Nikiski’s career and technical education offerings expand. Woodworking and a computer-aided design drafting course have been offered at the school.
“I’m just excited to have something like this back in our school. It’s been a while since we’ve had a real power mechanics-type course,” Boyle said. “... We’ve got a new administration, and when they got here we had two voc-ed classes on the docket. We’ve got two empty shops, and they decided they wanted to broaden our scope.”
“Now I just have to work on the welding shop,” Cox said.
Cox said she’s hopeful an industry partnership can be formed to get the welding shop back online. Dusek said one of the district’s goals is for students to be able to obtain industry-recognized certificates.
“That’s the next step. We recognize some of those opportunities coming down the pipe, and we’re really building those partnerships with industry and Kenai Peninsula College,” Dusek said.
Cox said her school also is working to get at least a part-time art teacher.
“We’re working on several things,” Cox said. “We want to have a comprehensive program. I think we have a lot to offer, but we want to get more.”
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